Not all professional misconduct is the same. There are ordinary slip-ups that are labeled “misconduct.” Then there are major mistakes that can cost you your reputation, your job and your professional license — no matter what field you are in.

So, what’s the difference?

Ordinary misconduct is the kind of behavior that can get you a stern lecture in your boss’s office or a write-up in your file. You may even get pulled down to the human resources department to have a terse discussion about the issue. It can include things like:

  • Disregarding your superior’s directions without justification
  • A mistake that could have easily been avoided if you had taken more care
  • Not following the standard operating procedures outlined in your company handbook or rules

While any of these things can get you in trouble, you aren’t likely to find your entire career in danger over them.

On the other hand, gross professional misconduct often looks like this:

  • You were extremely insubordinate to a superior — perhaps getting into a verbal dispute in front of others, cursing and being openly hostile or derogatory.
  • You intentionally misused your internet access in a way that violates your professional code of conduct (for example, if you’re a physician, looking at the medical records of a relative who isn’t your patient).
  • You participated in some form of illegal discrimination or sexual harassment toward a co-worker.
  • You allowed a drug or alcohol problem to affect your judgment, and it injured a client or patient.
  • You committed some form of theft, fraud or graft against your company, clients or an insurer.

Obviously, these aren’t the only possible ways to put your license in danger — but they’re some of the big ones. Should you find yourself accused of gross professional misconduct, take steps to protect your legal rights immediately.